Sena twist in Atal monsoon theme
PM promises probe, Sinha points finger
Endless wait on daughter’s birthday
Prisoner in Hardwar, killer in Delhi
Indian balloon chase for bug ET
Digvijay appeased
Calcutta weather

 
 
SENA TWIST IN ATAL MONSOON THEME 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN AND DEBASISH
 
Aug. 1: 
When the curtains went up on Act II of the resignation drama today, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was back in his poetic element. A deferential NDA playing the dutiful muse, Vajpayee declared as “closed the resignation chapter” and waited for the “monsoon clouds” over his government to dissipate.

By nightfall when the curtains fell, the Shiv Sena had done justice to the Prime Minister’s script, but not before threatening to turn the rain clouds into a thunderstorm and forcing Vajpayee to rush his trusted troubleshooter George Fernandes to Mumbai.

Thackeray, who had throughout the day sent pullout signals to Delhi, said after a meeting with Fernandes that he had decided against withdrawal in the nation’s interest and to avoid a “civil war”.

But he accused Delhi of “sabotaging” his plans to replace the Congress-led Democratic Front government in his state. He said he was “unhappy” with the PMO and remained ambiguous on his MP Sanjay Nirupam’s allegation linking the PMO to the UTI scandal. The charge is being seen as the flashpoint for the Prime Minister’s offer to resign yesterday.

Thackeray tonight parried questions on whether he had asked Nirupam to apologise, a demand made by the BJP earlier.

Sources in Delhi said Thackeray was understood to have won an assurance of plum portfolios for his ministers at the Centre. The berth reward is likely to be announced only after the Parliament session ends.

Thackeray, too, hinted as much. The Sena leader said he wanted the ministers’ portfolios changed. “I expect it will be done in future,” he added.

Thackeray had blown hot and cold towards the BJP since yesterday. He had stepped up the heat by lining up a press conference in Mumbai at 12 noon tomorrow — an unprecedented move on his part — fuelling fears in the BJP that its oldest ally was preparing to pull out.

The battlelines were etched deeper this morning when Thackeray directed Union power minister Suresh Prabhu to skip the NDA meeting. In retaliation, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan informed Thackeray that the BJP would not put up with his “armtwisting”, sources said.

At the meeting, the Prime Minister’s mood was as unrelenting. “Those who do not wish to stay in the government need not do so. You cannot remain in the Cabinet and criticise the government,” he was quoted as saying.

A resolution adopted at the meeting — attended by all other allies, including the PMK which has not yet been formally reinducted — reaffirmed its pledge to “work as a solid phalanx under the leadership of Shri Atalji”. The coalition also decided to evolve a code of conduct. A four-member group has been asked to come up with the code within 10 days.

It was tentatively decided that allies who were part of the government should not oppose any Cabinet decision, while those who were outside it would not speak out against policy decisions.

A rejuvenated Vajpayee said: “We have to be careful in future and see that everybody follows the code of conduct.” In the Lok Sabha, Vajpayee continued to be upbeat. “The monsoon is on and clouds gather. But they also disappear. This is still to happen,” he said.

   

 
 
PM PROMISES PROBE, SINHA POINTS FINGER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today sought to pacify the Opposition by offering a probe into allegations linking PMO officials to the UTI scandal. But finance minister Yashwant Sinha stepped up the offensive by digging out a deal struck during Manmohan Singh’s tenure.

Vajpayee told the Rajya Sabha that the PMO had nothing to do with the UTI muddle. He said he wanted to clarify the issues raised in the House by Manmohan when he was not present.

Vajpayee’s announcement minutes before the resumption of an interrupted debate on the scam found the Opposition in raptures.

Parliament had earlier seen chaotic scenes after a Shiv Sena MP disclosed that PMO officials had been holding telephone conversations with sacked UTI chief P.S. Subramanyam when the mutual fund decided to ignore its own research wing’s warnings against purchase of dud shares floated by a Lucknow-based company.

But if Vajpayee’s offer was one step forward in mending fences with an estranged Opposition, Sinha promptly followed it up with two backwards.

Sinha pointed a finger at UTI’s purchase of a Mumbai-based giant’s shares in 1994 at a high price with resultant losses during Manmohan’s term as finance minister. UTI had invested about Rs 1,073 crore in the company in an off-market deal at Rs 385 per share, but the price later see-sawed and hit a low of Rs 77 at one stage.

Sinha’s sole reference to UTI’s current difficulties was tracing the losses to market fluctuation. He also quoted statistics on UTI’s investment of Rs 386 crore between 1964 and 1995 in 285 companies which later ceased to exist. “I am not blaming anybody for that,” the finance minister said.

Initially, the Congress did not rally to retaliate. Instead, the CPM’s Nilotpal Basu led the charge, asking Sinha to come to the point and explain what happened in 2001.

His colleague Jibon Roy chipped in by saying history was all right but “janata ab kidhar jayega”? Soon, the debate collapsed into a slanging match with cries of “shame, shame” rending the air.

Manmohan then stood up, seeking to answer the charges indirectly levelled at him, but Sinha and his partymen refused to let the Opposition leader speak. The ensuing verbal fracas eventually forced adjournment of the House.

“Normal convention in the House is that when the leader of the House, the Prime Minister or the leader of the Opposition stand up to speak, we members yield to them. But the BJP seemed to want a confrontation so that there is an adjournment. They don’t want to reply,” said an angry Basu outside the House.

Even the usually placid former finance minister seemed bitter. “If UTI’s present precarious condition is simply because of market fluctuations and because of what happened earlier, why has UTI’s last chairman been sacked or even arrested?” Manmohan asked journalists afterwards.

   

 
 
ENDLESS WAIT ON DAUGHTER’S BIRTHDAY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
The sound of Chandipath resounded through the Roy Burman home on a day police appeared to have hit a dead end in the Parthapratim kidnapping case.

Yesterday, amid indications that “some sort of contact” had been established with the shoe magnate’s kidnappers, CID chief Partha Bhattacharjee had said Parthapratim Roy Burman was injured, but “alive and safe”. Bhattacharjee also said he was “hopeful of getting to the bottom of this (case)”.

That enthusiasm was missing today. Prasun Mukherjee, the inspector-general of police, south Bengal, refused to confirm or deny reports about the Khadim’s vice-chairman being safe and alive. All he said was: “I can’t say anything till he is back home.”

Roy Burman’s daughter Riddhima spent her 11th birthday waiting for her father to return, with sisters Rishika and Ritwika. Once in a while, she tried to console her grandmother.

In the morning, the mood among policemen had been upbeat. Sources said there were “clear indications” that Roy Burman would be set free during the day. But as afternoon turned to evening and then to night, officers handling the case went into a huddle again.

“We are in the dark about the whereabouts of our boss. So far, the CID has given us only one information: Parthapratim is alive,” said Manish Chakraborty, Khadim’s marketing manager.

At BH 164, Salt Lake, round-the-clock Chandipath continued. The abducted magnate’s sister, Joyshree Burman, said: “My sisters-in-law are praying by turns to our family goddess, Kali. We have surrendered ourselves to the Maa.”

“My father is in trauma. One of us has to be with him all the while. My mother’s blood pressure has shot up,” Joyshree said. “We need only one thing now — the safe return of my brother.”

“We are tired of this confinement. We are stuck in our rooms and have not been able to get fresh air as we cannot even go to our balcony or the roof. TV crew and journalists are surrounding our house,” she added.

A team of policemen sent to North 24-Parganas came back empty-handed in the evening.

Sleuths of the special investigation team raided Rajarhat and picked up three criminals who might have information on where Roy Burman was being held.

Mukherjee said police chiefs of neighbouring states have also been contacted.

“We don’t have any knowledge about any ransom demand from the kidnappers,” he added but said the Roy Burman family has been “cooperating”.

   

 
 
PRISONER IN HARDWAR, KILLER IN DELHI 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
The Phoolan Devi murder case has taken an unexpected twist with Hardwar jail records showing that Sher Singh Rana alias Sheru alias Pankaj, who claimed he shot the MP, was an inmate between July 18 and 26.

Qamar Ahmed, additional commissioner of police (crime), said: “We have received information that Sher Singh Rana, also known as Pankaj, was arrested in Jawalpur, Hardwar district, in 1996. He was arrested in an illegal liquor case. Rana was on bail since December 1996.”

Rana had to return to the prison on July 18 after his surety in the case was withdrawn by one Surendra Singh Rana. Phoolan was murdered on July 25.

The disclosure has punched a hole in the claim of Delhi police commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma that the case was “almost solved”.

Ahmed also threw light on Rajinder alias Ravinder, one of Pankaj’s accomplices. “Rajinder was arrested in an excise case in Jawalpur on July 4. He was released on bail on July 26,” he said.

Uttaranchal police today ordered an inquiry into whether Rana was indeed in Hardwar jail on the day of Phoolan’s murder or some other person was put there in his place. DGP A.K. Sharan argued it was possible that Rana was trying to confuse the investigators. Rana, who has several criminal cases against him in Uttaranchal, has often used the name of his friend Pankaj Kalra to execute shady deals.

Ahmed said a team of officials from the Delhi police crime branch has been sent to Hardwar to verify the records. A force has also left for Mirzapur to arrest Keshav Chauhan, a Samajwadi Party worker, for hiding two country-made weapons in Phoolan’s garage after the shooting. This information was disclosed by a party worker, Ranjit, also known as Lathiwala.

What has baffled the police is why Ranjit did not tell them about the weapons immediately. Explained Munni, Phoolan’s younger sister: “Ranjit was warned by Chauhan and Ramchander Kashyap, a former personal assistant to Phoolan and an Eklavya party activist, not to tell the police about the country-made weapons which were picked up from the entrance gate.”

Munni also pointed to Ramchander’s role in the conspiracy. “After hearing the gunshots, Shivnath, the cook, Vivek, a party worker, and I rushed to the gate and saw Phoolan lying in a pool of blood. Ramchander and Uma Kashyap, who were present in the house, did not come out for 10 minutes.”

Ramchander denied the charge. “I did rush to the gate and saw a masked figure firing and running away,” he said. Ramchander claims he is confident the masked man was Rana.

   

 
 
INDIAN BALLOON CHASE FOR BUG ET 
 
 
FROM G.S. MUDUR
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
The extraterrestrial bacteria announced by British astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe earlier this week owe their discovery to a high-altitude balloon experiment conceived and executed entirely in India.

But, unlike Cardiff University’s Wickramasinghe, Indian scientists who played a key role in the experiment caution that the findings are only tentative and need to be established through detailed biological studies now in progress in Hyderabad.

“The evidence right now is very suggestive, but still preliminary,” Dr Jayant Narlikar, director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics and principal investigator in the balloon experiment, told The Telegraph.

Narlikar led the Indian research team that in January this year had launched a giant balloon with onboard instrumentation high into the upper atmosphere to collect air samples from altitudes up to 40 km.

The experiment was designed to test the decades-old controversial hypothesis first proposed by British astronomers Fred Hoyle and Wickramasinghe that interstellar space was populated by microbes which may have served as “seeds” for life on Earth.

The assumption underlying the balloon experiment is that if space bugs are raining down upon Earth, they should show up in the upper atmosphere.

Biologists at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad and at Cardiff University analysed these air samples.

An intriguing finding is that the density of microbes is nearly the same at the lowest altitude and at the highest altitude from which air samples were collected.

“If there was no ‘influx’ from space, the microbe density should be expected to decrease as you go higher into the atmosphere,” Narlikar said.

CCMB biologists analysing air samples from a previous balloon experiment conducted last year had discovered six colonies of microbes at altitudes of 10 to 20 km.

“But they were collected from an altitude of 20 km and thus may have been the result of contamination from aircraft,” says Pushpa M. Bhargava, chief coordinator of the biological investigations on the high altitude air samples.

Bhargava has dubbed Wickramasinghe’s announcement as extremely premature.

He said it is important to establish the presence of genetic material, or DNA, to confirm microbes in the high-altitude air samples.

CCMB researchers have so far failed to detect any evidence of microbes in the air samples from the second balloon experiment. “But we’re using a different technology from what the Cardiff team used,” says Bhargava.

Balloon experiments to search for microbes in space will be able to test the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe hypothesis at a fraction of the cost that the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to spend on future missions that involve sending spacecraft to comets and search for signs of life.

Such experiments were conceived several years ago by scientists at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai who used sophisticated cryogenic sampling technology developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation to suck in air samples at high altitudes.

   

 
 
DIGVIJAY APPEASED 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was today forced to give additional charge of railways to Samata Party leader Digvijay Singh, who refused to assume charge as commerce and industry junior minister till yesterday.

But the move, at the instance of Samata chief George Fernandes, has not gone down well with railway minister Nitish Kumar and several other Samata MPs.

Some legislators plan to take up the matter with Fernandes, who, they said, played a role in securing the additional portfolio for Singh. “What does it mean? Bargaining? Only on July 22 he was shifted out of the railway ministry,” said an MP.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 30.4°C (-2)
Minimum: 26.6°C (+1)

Rainfall:

3.7 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 82%

Today

A few spells of light to moderate rain.
Sunrise: 5.10 am
Sunset: 6.16 pm
   
 

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